In the battle to be the first to market with new products, retailers face fierce competition from other industry operators and cross-channel marketers. Despite the battle for that share of wallet, chains have come to depend on their wholesalers and product manufacturers for the information they need to make smart business choices.
The convenience store industry’s distributors and manufacturers are tremendous resources for identifying hot sales trends, new product information and emerging customer shopping patterns.
But right now, we are seeing unprecedented supply disruptions that are affecting not only foodservice, snacks and beverages, but also the delivery of gondolas, cooler doors and even back-office equipment. Depending on who you ask, the root cause is a lack of raw materials, factory workers or truckers to ship the items. But for retailers, the cause doesn’t really matter when you have a new store opening in six weeks and can’t get gondolas.
That makes this year’s National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) Show in Chicago all the more important. After missing a year of face-to-face meetings, retailers have an opportunity to reengage with their supplier partners and to lean on these long-term relationships to ignite the business.
“Our vendor partnerships are closely tied to our success as an industry,” Greg Parker, president and CEO of The Parker Cos. told me not long ago. “Because we are so focused on product, we focus heavily on our supplier relationships and their commitment to our company to create the win-win — what we can learn from them and what they can learn from us. We share our data with our trusted suppliers, and they provide us with new product ideas to address what we’re both learning.”
For this reason, the relationship between c-store operators and their supplier/wholesaler partners can never be understated. Each side relies on the other for support and growth opportunities. It is a true mutually beneficial relationship.
Finding What Works
But like all relationships, there can be bumps in the road.
When it comes to dealing with a host of primary wholesalers, multiple direct-store-delivery (DSD) vendors and local foodservice providers, convenience store chains must learn how to grow more efficiently without sacrificing goods and services.
It is extremely important for stores to develop planograms for every section of the store and then to revisit these planograms seasonally, if not monthly. Utilizing scan data and wholesaler data, even the smallest chains can have instant access to which products are selling and which ones are collecting dust.
Staging a store to encourage sales is a science that requires consistent attention and frequent tweaking. For most retailers, store sets are not a one-time-and-done chore but an ongoing part of doing business. At many top-quartile chains, management does regular resets based on category.
When preparing for a reset, it’s important to look at internal scan data and compare that to local market sales data, specifically drug and grocery scan data, which you can get from your wholesaler. This will help you ensure that the products on your shelves are what your customers are looking for every time they come to your stores.
As the industry struggles with supply disruptions, successful chains have learned that it’s OK to cut back on one category to make space for a category that is growing. Successful merchandising is as much about having products in stock — any products — as it is embracing new opportunities.
The payoff from collaborative efforts can be tremendous. At this year’s NACS Show, make the most of the opportunities before you. Visit your key supplier and manufacturer partners as you prepare for the unique challenges that await you in the year ahead. Tell them what you want, work together to develop a plan to get what you need, then continue providing that outstanding service your customers have come to expect.
I look forward to seeing you at the show.